In this Philosophy TV episode, Jennifer Nagel defends the use of intuitions as evidence in philosophy, particularly in epistemology. At one point in the conversation with Joshua Alexander, she makes an argument that goes roughly like this (starting at 27:20):
The “We Don’t Have to Sterilize the Tools before We Use Them” Argument
- For any method M1 used in field F, if we do not have an alternative method M2 for F, then we are justified in using M1 for F even if we do not have good reasons to believe that M1 is a good method for F.
- We do not have a method other than the method of cases (or appealing to intuitions) for epistemology.
- Therefore, we are justified in using the method of cases (or appealing to intuitions) for epistemology.
Assuming that this is a fairly accurate reconstruction of Nagel’s argument, I think this argument is unsound. As far as the first premise is concerned, nothing about the epistemic status of the methods we do have necessarily follows from the fact that they are the only methods we have. In other words, the antecedent of (1) is about the methods we do or do not have, whereas the consequent of (1) is about the epistemic status of our methods (e.g., their reliability). To use Nagel’s analogy, then, even if there is only one ladder we can use to climb out of the pit we are in, that does not mean that the ladder will not break as soon as we step on it.
As for the second premise, I have tried to suggest on the Cocoon before that appealing to intuitions is not the only way to do philosophy. So I think that (2) is also false. But even if it were true, it would simply not follow that the method of cases is a good method. I think this argument fails to distinguish clearly between the methods we have at our disposal and whether those methods are any good. We are not justified in using any method we have just because we have it; we could be wasting our time (as I think we have with respect to some dominant arguments in analytic philosophy).